Carolina's 2014 draft class gets an upgrade from Mel Kiper Jr.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Upon further review, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. gives the Carolina Panthers an A-minus for their 2014 draft class.

It is a significant upgrade from the "C" he gave them immediately after the draft.

Kiper Jr. liked that Carolina hit on first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin (No. 28 overall) to replace Steve Smith as its No. 1 receiver. Benjamin had 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. He added 11 catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the postseason.

As Kiper Jr. correctly noted, Benjamin was inconsistent, particularly in terms of dropped passes. But overall the selection of Benjamin was solid.

Kiper Jr. applauded the selection of San Jose State cornerback Bene' Benwikere in the fifth round, calling him one of the best sleepers in the draft. He also liked the selection of fourth-round pick Tre Boston, a free safety out of North Carolina. He called third-round pick Trai Turner, a guard out of LSU, one of his favorite players in the draft. He also liked the upside of defensive end Kony Ealy, a second-round pick out of Missouri.

Where Kiper Jr. has an issue with the draft class is no tackle was selected to protect quarterback Cam Newton. There is a good reason. There wasn’t a can’t-miss left tackle at No. 28 or beyond.

Also, the Panthers believed Byron Bell or Nate Chandler could play left tackle. Bell won the job, but ultimately didn’t pan out. He ranked next-to-last among tackles rated by Pro Football Focus.

Still, to select a left tackle at No. 28 or beyond would have been a reach.

I’d argue Carolina’s class should get a solid A.

My reasons? Four of the six players -- Benjamin, Turner, Boston, and Benwikere -- started the final six games when Carolina went 5-1. Ealy was a key contributor on the defensive front playing end and tackle.

The only miss was sixth-round draft pick Tyler Gaffney, a running back out of Stanford. He was a miss only in that he suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp and was claimed off waivers by New England.

Leaving Gaffney exposed was perhaps the biggest mistake with this class.

Four members of Carolina’s draft class went in the first round in a recent Sports Illustrated re-draft. The magazine had Benjamin going No. 18 to the New York Jets, Benwikere No. 21 to Green Bay, Ealy No. 25 to San Diego, and Boston No. 26 to Philadelphia.

Carolina was given Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews.

Four first-round picks is pretty strong.

Here’s a complete look at Carolina’s 2014 draft class:

Click hereInsider for Kiper Jr.'s complete re-grading of the draft.